When you finish reading this, you may not view life in quite the same way again—even if you are indifferent about, or passionately dislike, what I have to say. I do not claim or presume that the reader will actually change what he or she is. That’s a more difficult and individualized process. But what I do claim is that once a person understands the workings of conscience, in detail, they are never be able to escape its constant commentary on one’s thoughts, desires and actions. That is what will be different. Those that already listen well to conscience, perhaps even without realizing it, will understand better how they get reminders, helps, and warning signals; and will better be able to teach others around them about this great secret to life. In contrast, those that have become experts in playing hide and seek with conscience will not be able to rationalize, make excuses and justify their own problems and mistakes with the same ease as before. Promptings to change will never be as easy to disregard. Nervous feelings or warnings about bad habits, thoughts or actions will never be as easy to hide from again.
Happily, there is a positive side to all this too. When we develop the self-control to follow conscience accurately and with consistency, we find ourselves longing for more of its promptings and warnings—simply because, by following that little “Jiminy Cricket” voice in our mind, everything goes better in life. It warns us not to say things we shouldn’t, not to buy things we can’t really afford, and not to do things that will get us into trouble. It helps us avoid accidents, illness, investment mistakes, and bad judgment.
With those kinds of benefits, why wouldn’t everyone want to listen? —simply because we can’t take the beneficial promptings without taking the criticism it offers on our improper thoughts and behavior as well. The latter type of counsel is so uncomfortable for most people that they try to turn the whole system off. In fact, most people learn early in their youth to hide from the voice of conscience—they develop a myriad of ways to cover it, deny it, rationalize, and, in other ways, deaden its tiny whisperings so they can feel good about doing what they want to do. But, in deadening the voice that criticizes and brings legitimate guilt, they also kill the whole “goose that lays the golden eggs.” Of course, the fruit of conscience is not necessarily wealth, but truth—which is ultimately more valuable than gold.
So my purpose in this writing is to help resensitize the mind to the voice of conscience, and, in the process, encourage my readers to learn to love its promptings and heed its counsel.
Almost everyone has limits to how much they want to change in life; and, when conscience pushes us to challenge our internal limits of change, many respond by cultivating calluses on the brain in order to ward off those painful little jabs of conscience that threaten those personality traits and comfort levels that need to be altered. This attempt to remain insensitive (or even hostile) to internal criticism causes potential damage to the mind, in proportion to the degree that a person skews or distorts reality to avoid confronting what is really real. People that are hardened in their bad habits are often capable of accepting their flaws and conniving ways without hiding (and I don’t say that as a compliment), while some basically good people (who are weak or who lack strength of character) sometimes try to live a lie—engaging in less than honest behavior while still trying to maintain the illusion of self-respect. These are they who most actively engage in trying to distort the whisperings of conscience. These are the ones that need to be resensitized to the workings of conscience—even though their propped-up self-esteem may have to come down a notch as conscience puts them through a “reality check.” While I realize this is painful, the ultimate results of persistence in hiding from reality are not very pretty. In its worst form, it leads to abuse of others, mental illness, and sometimes suicide.
But those who take the high road of conscience will come to possess an inner peace that will give constancy to their lives amid a world that is headed for increased turmoil. I can’t promise you happiness per se in a world that is capable of tremendous cruelty to others, but I can promise you the internal peace that comes from knowing you have done what is right in any given circumstance. I often wonder if many people remember what it is like to have this kind of internal peace. When is the last time you remember feeling that you have really done everything right for a significant period of time? Some people never do, because they have been working against conscience all their lives, in little ways at first, even from their youth, and then later on with major rejections—and disastrous consequences.
Others, who have had periods of happiness here and there in life, never really get a solid handle on the workings of conscience, because they only selectively listen to conscience—picking and choosing what is comfortable. And so they make errors from time to time—enough to put a fairly heavy damper on the joys of life. So, even those up and coming achievers who, for a time, gain worldly success by listening only to the “savvy business signals” of conscience, eventually experience the unwanted but irrevocable consequences of bad personal judgment that can bring life in the fast lane screeching to a halt in the mud.
Let me give you a few real life examples. You will probably find that these experiences and mistakes of others will bring back to your memory similar habit patterns of disregarding conscience. Hopefully, by seeing the disasters that can come to anyone who makes a habit of violating conscience, we will all be sufficiently motivated to correct any similar patterns in our own lives.
Reader’s Digest has an interesting section each month called “Drama in Action” with stories of people caught in life-threatening situations that normally lead to heroic acts of valor or escape. Most often this results in tremendous suffering. I’ve often wondered how differently these situations (when there was fault involved) would have turned out if people had listened to the warning voice of conscience. Rarely do any of them admit to these warnings. I’ve only found one who did, and she didn’t relate it to conscience—just severe nervous feelings. In each example, I will describe for you some common bad habits that generally lead to the “accidents” that followed.
First, there is the bad habit of taking undo risks, especially unnecessary ones that athletic, youthful individuals do for thrills, pride, bravado, daring and other peer-oriented bad habits. What they all have in common is that, the more they engage in danger, the more they desensitize the warning voices in the mind—especially when they survive most of these dangers. Putting oneself constantly in danger makes one feel nervous too often, so one is tempted to turn down the sensitivity and the volume. Then it becomes easier to accommodate more danger. In the process, one also loses the ability to distinguish between two different types of nervousness: one form addresses the “correctness” of what you are about to do, and the other reacts to the danger itself. In these situations, the two forms of nervousness are aimed at the same purpose—avoiding potential injury. But, later on, we will see that one has to learn to distinguish between these two types. Sometimes the act may be dangerous, but still correct to proceed. Other times the act may be safe (physically) but you are warned not to proceed for other mental or moral reasons. People who make it a habit of not heeding nervous feelings always make big mistakes eventually.
One story concerns a cross-country skier who gets in the habit of going out skiing alone in a wilderness area (first bad habit). He decides to descend a bare rocky slope on foot to get to a skiable field leading to his destination. He starts down a slope so steep that coming back up would only barely be possible under the best of conditions (second mistake—to leave no way out). Only too late, he notes that the slope is ice covered instead of bare, as he first thought. He tries to reverse his course, but slips backward and falls causing back injury and broken bones, and only barely survives with heroic self-determination (Reader’s Digest, Jan 1988 “Ordeal in the Winter Woods,” pg. 95). It never ceases to amaze me how much self-control people can exercise when they have to, and yet they can make so many minor errors leading up to the tragedy that could have been avoided by using just a fraction of that self-control beforehand. It demonstrates how selective people’s virtues are.
The next one is example of excess bravado under peer pressure where a fellow allows himself to go beyond an avalanche of nervous feelings in his quest to “meet the challenge.” He is an experienced “free solo” rock climber and is invited by his partner (who is slightly superior in skills) to compete (first mistake) with him, climbing dangerous cliffs. He then discovers as his friend starts out on the first pitch that he intends to do it without the aid of safety ropes (second mistake). With friends like that, who needs enemies? The more cocky and talented partner taunts him into more and more difficult climbs (this friend shows severe insensitivity to conscience). Our “hero” fails to decline each challenge despite growing fatigue (third mistake). The challenged climber feels extremely nervous about the last, death defying climb, but can’t resist the taunting (fourth and near fatal mistake). He describes this last desperate ordeal in gripping detail. He barely survives in the end, and his partner makes some light comments, further indicating no remorse for his part in the near disaster (Reader’s Digest, Feb. 95 “Death Grip,” pg. 128). At least at the end of his story the author admits his mistake and seems determined not to repeat it. I wonder though—people who persist in being friends with those who are chronic violators of conscience are asking for trouble.
Next, let’s look at the bad habit of letting the fact that “everybody else does it” cloud obvious dangers, and undermine the warnings of conscience.
There was a young woman who took a job tending the children of a couple working in the bush in Africa. Everyone regularly swims and bathes in the Epulu river, even though there are crocodiles lurking (first mistake). While this is rationalized because the river is the only source of bathing water, one would think that prudence would dictate making a shallow “safe pool” next to the river, or at least having an armed person present and watching for danger. They did neither (second mistake), and she was caught waist deep in the water (third mistake) by a huge crocodile, while washing her hair. She doesn’t mention any nervous premonitions directly related to the attack. But she does mention having felt that it was “time to go”—she mentions the lateness of the hour. While I cannot be sure without talking to her, often people get nervous signals about something coming but don’t know why or to what it is directed. In mentioning the “lateness of the hour,” was she simply attaching a reason to her nervousness? I don’t know, but in any case, despite whatever warning she may have had, she took the time to wash her hair in deep water (last mistake). A large crocodile grabbed her arm and wouldn’t let go, spinning and thrashing her around under the water. A nearby male friend comes to help her, and after a horrible death struggle between her, the friend, and the crocodile, the crocodile finally tore her arm off, but she lived (Readers Digest “In the Jaws of a Crocodile,” July 94, pg. 70)—great heroism on the part of the friend, but definitely avoidable.
In this next example, I will attempt to comment on the sometimes tragic consequences that follow young couples living and traveling together, avoiding the covenants and responsibilities of marriage. I am not at all trying to make a case that all people living in an immoral relationship are destined for any specific curse. But there is the distinct impression I get that they may become ineligible for certain blessings of divine protection when they engage in this type of prohibited conduct. Often divine intervention in critical or dangerous situations is conditioned upon listening to the promptings of conscience long before the danger appears. Moral misconduct is particularly serious when it represents a dedicated pattern of justifications and rationalizations, attempting to deaden some of the strongest of all the nervous feelings that conscience delivers.
Of course, blessings of protection are not a guaranteed thing even for moral people—everyone is subject to trials—but disregarding nervousness about immoral behavior is particularly devastating to conscience since most people who engage in it often take a very hostile attitude toward God, commandments, and restraining rules in general. In short, they lay themselves open for missing critical signals that would help avoid tragedies. They try to convince themselves that nervous feelings are unreal, and that the accompanying guilt is unjustly imposed upon them by the mores of an overwrought religious influence in society. Certainly this hostility is the norm in Europe and among many college students, teachers and philosophers. However free they are to think this way, the Lord of Heaven doesn’t like it (especially the haughtiness that accompanies such thinking) and He seeks opportunities to deliver serious consequences to them from time to time.
In this case an unmarried couple from Europe goes canoeing and camping in Canada. They see at least two messages from other campers on the lake warning of the presence of an aggressive black bear. They agree to be cautious (they don’t mind listening to feelings when it doesn’t get in the way of their dedicated lifestyle) and seek out another campsite further down the lake. When they find one with a cabin on it, they find it is already partially occupied by some hunters (strangers, but not unfriendly). Because of the known danger, the hunters invite them to share the cabin with them. They decline (the crucial mistake) rationalizing that they came to be in the outdoors, and would rather stay in their small tent. They probably wanted their privacy too, which their little tent provided amply. But that tent didn’t even come close to providing any protection from the bear attack that came in the morning. The girl escaped, but her companion took the brunt of the attack, only barely surviving—with serious injuries. (Reader’s Digest, Jan 95, “Caught in the Jaws of Death”). Either their pattern of violating conscience caused them to disregard any strong warnings they might have received or they failed to merit strong enough warnings about the necessity of staying in the cabin. The results were sad, either way.
Then there is the direct failure to heed a strong and clear warning. This doesn’t happen unless a person is very young and/or unfamiliar with how to react to warnings, or the person is older and has developed the habit of disregarding nervous feelings. The first is understandable and justifiable, while the latter is not. I’ll give several examples of the latter type—all with a variety of warnings, some singular and clear, others numerous and not so clear—but all disregarded, just the same.
In the first, a couple picked some mushrooms in the wild, without any particular training (informal or otherwise) in mushroom identification (first mistake). But they did call a Korean friend when they got home, who knew about mushrooms (indicating they must have felt some anxiety about the dangers involved). The friend could not say for sure over the phone but cautioned them not to eat them till she could come over and check them out. They declined, rationalizing (second mistake) that it would only make them sick, or that jokingly, “they would die together.” And they did almost die. (Reader’s Digest, July 89, “Transplant Emergency,” pg. 43.)
Next, a surfer in Oregon, who was the victim of a shark attack, doesn’t specifically mention his own feelings, but he does mention failing to heed several other more open warnings of shark danger. First, he noticed schools of fish leaping out of the water, which he knew was a sign of escape from a predator; second, he heard fishermen mention having seen a huge shark, 30 miles to the south, attack and kill a large sea lion; and third, even as he was paddling out, two other surfers were leaving, saying that they saw something, and felt nervous (somebody listens). He failed to heed all of these warnings, and got struck by the shark, and barely survived—mostly because of his buoyant surfboard which kept the shark from dragging him under (Reader’s Digest, July 95, “Encounter with a Great White,” Pg. 74). Let us suppose he didn’t feel any particular nervousness inside, despite the outward warnings. Why do some people get warnings and others not? We have already discussed why some forms of behavior lead to loss of warnings. If the beneficial signals from conscience are from a divine source, as I believe, then there may be penalties involved in showing previous disregard, or the person himself may have become insensitive. Sometimes, there is no personal blame attached, and the Lord allows a person to experience an excruciating trial in his life. But in no case does the Lord allow these attacks to occur by “bad luck.” Each person’s life is monitored from above (my opinion), and nothing happens unless it is a consequence for something, or is allowed as a trial of adversity.
In another case, a handicapped mother (in a wheelchair), leaves her young daughter by the swimming pool while she goes to answer the phone. While on the phone, she hears a splash and fails to heed any warning feelings to go back and check, rationalizing instead that it is the dog. By the time she returns the daughter has drowned and is only barely revived by her heroic efforts (“I have to save my baby,” Reader’s Digest, April 89, pg. 65). I do not wish to appear harsh about someone else’s misfortune, but it often amazes me how tiny and how fleeting warnings signals may be. Most of the time it is nothing more than a thought that crosses your mind. It is up to us to grab each interrupting thought and hold on to it till it is analyzed for possible accuracy—and then act upon it, even if there is only a chance it is right (when there are no threatened adverse consequences to such action). This takes consistent practice till one begins to gain a conviction of its efficacy. So many little thoughts pass through our minds during the day that it becomes easy to treat them all with some apathy—that’s the big danger.
In “Crocodile Attack” (Reader’s Digest, Oct 89, pg. 71), the story teller was canoeing around in canoeing country and actually admits to feeling extreme nervousness prior to crossing a stretch of water where the attack occurred. But she failed to heed this clear warning and was severely mauled by the crocodile—barely escaping alive.
In another case, a man demonstrated multiple bad judgments in going along with a friend’s invitation despite numerous nervous feelings. Their families were on vacation together in Mexico. The friend, an experienced handler of “Jet Ski” type water vehicles talks our future victim into going out into the ocean despite his nervous feelings (first mistake). He is even more nervous when he sees the patched condition of the Jet Ski he is about to rent (second warning). He notes that the operator has to use starting fluid to get it started (third warning and a bad omen if you are going far out away from land). All too often people who get involved in an unknown activity tend to rely too much on the judgment of those around them who seem more experienced. To their own detriment, they often allow these so-called “old timers” to squelch any warnings they may feel. Young men of the bravado type, who considered themselves “Old hands” often fail to see or heed warnings, and should not be considered reliable. Remember, the person with the nervous feelings should always be given higher priority.
Sure enough, his machine stops out in the ocean and cannot be restarted. Then there is another error—his buddy offers to take him back in with his jet ski, but he is afraid to leave the jet ski (the crucial error) because of the high deposit required on the rental. So, his friend goes off to get help, leaving him alone to drift (the friend probably disregarded nervous feelings at this juncture, as well). The jet sea then sinks, and he is left to drift in the ocean in his life jacket—a mere speck, and is only miraculously found (“A speck in the Endless Sea,” Reader’s Digest, Nov. 95, pg. 141).
Finally, there is the sad case of a man with clear, distinct warnings that went unheeded. He was driving on a bumpy orchard road with cans of volatile fluid in the back of his vehicle. He got a distinct nervous feeling prompting him to secure those cans. He disregarding the warning, and shortly afterwards, they exploded, engulfing the vehicle in flames. He suffered severe burns and barely survived, attributing much of his recovery to the miraculous hand of God. Sadly, he never mentioned the sad lesson he should have learned: that had he heeded the warnings of conscience, he wouldn’t have needed the “miracle” and would not now be permanently disabled. (Ensign, March 94).
Many of my readers may think I am being excessively harsh or judgmental in discussing these tragedies, and inferring more fault than they themselves admit to. But, if you could only understand, as I do now, after studying so many people’s violations of conscience and the tragic consequences that inevitably follow, you would be much less lenient than you are now to give people the “benefit of the doubt.” I have assumed much about each of these person’s prior behavior and possible feelings, even though I don’t specifically have access to that history. These judgments are based upon patterns I have observed in thousands of other people I have closely watched, who almost always fall into a similar pattern: Without exception, all people who have chronic, or numerous problems demonstrate a habit pattern of multiple violations of conscience in both big and little ways. This inevitably results in severe consequences which someday come back to haunt them with a vengeance. This happens to everyone who disregards conscience, to some degree, though often not in such dramatic ways as the stories we have just read.
THE WORKINGS OF CONSCIENCE:
What precisely is conscience and how does it work? Although it is not possible to precisely define conscience in purely scientific terms, or determine how it functions, physically, I will try to describe the process according to my experience—which is almost identical to hundreds of other people I have talked to.
There are several mental experiences that everyone seems to sense regularly in life—some more than others, of course, but these are the universal ones:
- From time to time, ideas seem to appear in the mind out of nowhere, which are not linked to what we were thinking about—that feeling that you just got a message from “somewhere else.” Most inventors get key concepts and ideas like this, often in directions totally different from anything they had been thinking about previously.
- Little reminders that come to mind, seemingly, out of nowhere, to call someone, or to think about someone or to do something; and when they do what they were “reminded” about, it often turns out to be very propitious that they did it right then—the person was home when called, or needed help at the time the thought came.
- Promptings that push people to do something they know they should do, but they don’t feel like doing. For kids, it is often a prompting to do homework instead of going out to play. For moms, it may be a prompting to turn off the television and clean up the house or do the dishes. For dads, it can often be a prompting to fix something the wife has been nagging about for months, when he feels “too tired” or wants to read the paper.
- Nervous feelings that warn people about doing something that isn’t quite right—an offensive word in anger, a second helping when overweight, splurging on something one can’t afford, or making a bad investment.
Social scientists have spent considerable time and effort trying to explain all these phenomena in terms of environmental preconditioning, or subconscious workings of the mind. The pain of conscience is generally referred to as guilt, and many psychologists are quick to ridicule the validity of guilt, especially in matters which do not appear to have any verifiable earthly consequences. It is true, that learned guidelines and environmental experiences do precondition the mind. But I do not believe in environmental determinism per se. I believe that environmental influences are checked against and processed in comparison with the feelings of conscience. This, coupled with people’s own innate proclivities (to do and believe what they are comfortable with), plays a far greater role in explaining why people placed in similar environments aren’t affected in the same ways. Some, in fact, are completely immune and unaffected by certain environmental conditions.
Others attribute the foregoing phenomena to some “sixth sense”—a mystical kind of sense that persons without a religious explanation use to define spiritual experience. Naturally, religious people attribute these things to divine intervention in the lives of mankind. Because the mind interacts with both its own internal, preconditioned feelings and external spiritual input, all of these explanations can be correct, but at different times. Let me explain how I view it.
From what I have been able to determine from the uniformity of experiences expressed by people I have talked to, the following emerge as common conclusions:
- Everyone experiences ideas occasionally that seem to “come from nowhere”—distinct from their present train of thought—like a computer “interrupt” if you like.
- These ideas always form expressions in the mind that sound like our own voice—same grammar, same syntax, same vocabulary—like talking to yourself. The only thing distinguishable is that the idea didn’t seem to come from us—it was external and original.
- There is an uncanny correlation between these seemingly “outside” promptings and the objects of those promptings—things that involve other people’s lives where it was not possible to have known either consciously or subconsciously this essential information. The most common examples are those promptings to think or worry about someone who, at that very moment, is in danger and needs help.
Science alone simply has no credible explanation, in my opinion, for these phenomena, hard as they may try, other than to attribute them to coincidence. But, alas, these kinds of connections between people and unknowable events are simply too numerous to be mere coincidence. So here is my explanation. You may disagree or have other ideas, but whatever your final conclusion, don’t let it stop you from becoming more aware of the phenomenal accuracy of conscience in interacting with and prompting us about our thoughts and actions. Each is free to explain these things anyway as they see fit, but I hope you will conclude as I have, that conscience is real, and that it doesn’t easily go away. People can work hard to turn down the volume and/or distort the receiver, but it doesn’t ever go away completely. I’m sure there is a divine reason for that, as well—and it may be related to the need to have a consistent minimum standard of ultimate judgment for our earthly performance despite each person’s varying and unique circumstances.
I believe that the central processor of all human thinking, somewhere in the conceptual middle of the brain, is also capable not only of receiving sensory input but spiritual input as well. What is spiritual input? I think it is simply a super refined medium of communication operating at such a high or different frequency that no earthly electronic equipment is capable of picking it up. But I believe that the core of the mind can. The central processor of the mind, in my view, only senses or processes things in idea format. It translates general or abstract ideas that are sent there from various parts of the brain, into concrete ideas, complete with language—words, grammar, syntax, etc. Once ideas are put to words, they are recognized and analyzed by the conscious mind and are ready for further processing—either simply to think about, remember, or to channel into the voice and mouth as external communication.
Although the central processor is an idea processor (if I am correct), it doesn’t appear to be able to distinguish easily the original source of any idea except for those that come directly through the five senses. In other words, ideas that are generated internally from memory or analysis can’t be easily distinguished from ideas that appear from spiritual sources. It is also true that we get no indication in our minds as to whether an idea comes from the left or right side of the brain. The mind itself cannot tell. People think they can determine that now, but only because they have learned to attach labels to certain ideas as “left brain” and other functions as “right brain.” But even this can only be done after conscious analysis, because it is a learned construct. But, clearly the mind can’t tell and doesn’t care. Neither can it tell, therefore, when an idea is received from outside the mind, through spiritual perception. Again, only afterward, by analysis, can one surmise that. I often work it out solely on a hunch that it may have been external because it began as an “interrupted thought” and was a clear departure from my present train of thought.
So, in summary, there are two basic ways in which thoughts and ideas are generated inside the mind itself: from processing direct external sensory input (reading, talking, or listening to others, etc.), and analysis of information and ideas already in the mind, perhaps even generating new and different ideas or conclusions. In addition, there are two other spiritual sources of idea input into the mind—which also can’t be distinguished from each other without analysis and checking your feelings: One type is the inspiration and promptings we may receive from divine sources, and the second type are temptations and enticements from opposing spiritual forces. The first two types of physical inputs to the mind are readily accepted by the academic world, the latter two spiritual types are not.
Nevertheless, I believe that everyone receives the latter two whether they consciously acknowledge them or not. In fact, it really isn’t necessary to know their nature to make use of them—and that may be even preferable for God’s testing purposes, so that man doesn’t know the “source from whence they come.” As I have observed, that which, I believe, makes the two forms of spiritual communication difficult to prove is that they both come into the mind as ideas and are processed using each person’s own words and thought patterns. Thus, it is both easy and natural to confuse them with our own human input and analysis. This also makes the test of life more interesting.
However, spiritual inspiration or temptation can become relatively easy to distinguish from external physical sensory inputs, if you work at it. Thinking is a fairly conscious process. Sometimes it drifts into a sort of automatic mode (like meditating and feeling), but generally we are consciously aware when we are thinking about something concrete. Because we are controlling what we think and have a particular direction we are taking in that thinking, there is a distinct “ownership” path associated with this process. We view these thoughts as “ours.” When one is consciously generating ideas, they also tend to lead logically from one to another. When one switches to a different thought, it happens consciously.
Now, in contrast to this conscious process, external spiritual input always comes as a subtle “interrupt” in your thought patterns. Most often they seem to suddenly appear, especially when the mind is not engaged in heavy rational thought, or external sensory overload. They may or may not have to do with the subject in your mind, but generally one can recognize them as external since they come as a surprise. Don’t get me wrong—they are not “surprising” in the usual sense of feeling shocked—in fact, one often must work at disciplining the mind to even notice random thoughts as they come around.
Some people’s minds are much less ordered than others and have lots of idle, random thoughts. These people have the most difficult time perceiving external spiritual impressions—often because they have learned to tune out almost all random thoughts rather than go through the more difficult exercise of controlling and analyzing them. Interestingly enough, this is an excellent way to learn to discipline the mind. Make it concentrate (perhaps only briefly) on every thought that enters the mind, and analyze it for credibility. When you do that, not only do you find that some ideas are valuable, but there are many worthless ramblings as well. And as you start to analyze and classify these random thoughts, you will naturally start to have less of the truly wandering variety—simply because the process of analyzing and classifying ideas naturally brings order and discipline to the mind. As time goes on, if you continue to stop and analyze interrupting thoughts, you will find that they are almost all from external input.
The input from divine sources is the only reliable and predictable source of spiritual input. Let me demonstrate why. Since God is the author of all divine inspiration, and He knows all things, including the appropriate allocation of truth for every situation, all inspiration will, if followed, lead to better judgment and more internal peace—though not necessarily temporal pleasure or worldly success.
Satanic temptations and enticements, on the other hand, are not so predictable. They may involve complete falsehoods, or 100% truth, although the eventual motive of the use of that truth is to lead one astray from that which is good and true (in the long term). Thus, one cannot judge the source of external spiritual input by the substance of the thought alone. Satan will often use full truth, partial truth, or even excess truth (meaning more than what is appropriate for the circumstances) to get one to make a mistake.
How then can we tell the difference between truth from a divine source and one from an evil source? It is relatively simple if we understand the consistent signals that God always gives us, via conscience.
Whenever we receive any temptation, or create a thought, of our own volition, that is incorrect or less than correct, we will always receive a negative reaction either from our own mind (when it has been trained to analyze correctly) or lacking that, from the divine source through conscience. Most often, this signal from conscience appears as an instantaneous nervous feeling, anxiety or fear as to the correctness of the thought or intention.
It must be noted, however, that there are apparent differences in people’s abilities to sense these nervous, warning feelings—especially in the small things. Some people are simply more sensitive to divine truths than other people—and it isn’t necessarily related to the presence of organized religious training. Many people seem to feel divine things even in the absence of religious training. And others, who receive a lot of formal religious training, don’t necessarily feel comfortable with it and do not internalize these moral values. There is also the factor that all religious training may not be equally correct or divine—which may explain why some very good people don’t feel comfortable in organized religion.
Nervous feelings, generally, will be in direct proportion to the seriousness of the error and indirectly proportional to the sensitivity of the person. In other words, one may receive stronger signals for more dangerous errors, and also as one gets closer to putting the wrong idea into action. But the signals sometimes become more refined (less intense) the more sensitivity to truth a person develops. This is because, once one learns to listen attentively to conscience, the Lord turns down the volume (to a mere whisper, sometimes) to help us further refine our sensitivity to truth. If we have become so insensitive that we are unable to hear them, short of crashing thunder and lightening, we probably won’t get anything at all. The good Lord above seems loath to break the veil around the earth in such dramatic ways.
At this point, let me interject something that plagues a minority of people. Some people have become overly sensitive to being guided by internal voices, and are often led to err or go over the mark by Satan. For these very sincere people, who may be trying too hard to be led by the Spirit (a violation of the non-dependency policy of the Lord) remember that the Lord likes to give only a bare minimum of promptings and does not like to give directions for every little thing, lest the person become dependent. Rather, He wants us to do most of the thinking for ourselves, listening for the little nervous feelings that tells us we still haven’t reached the right conclusion, and then keep working till we feel calm about it. Sometimes, the best answers distill upon the mind when we are not concentrating on the problem.
It is important to differentiate between the nervous feelings that come from conscience and other normal nervousness that comes as a result of having to do something unfamiliar or dangerous. For example, a young person might be asked to give a short talk in front of an audience. It may be a proper and good experience, yet he feels very tense about it. So, how does one determine if the tenseness is nervousness related to correctness, or anxiety related to fear of doing something unfamiliar? The best way is to phrase this question in a manner that addresses the rightness of the action. “Should I be giving this talk? Is it the right thing to do?” Assuming it is right, one will feel calm about answering, “yes” to the question. Sometimes, if still in doubt, it helps to reverse the question and attempt to say it is “wrong” to give the talk. If it is right to give the talk, then the person should feel nervous about the wrong assertion being tested. In addition, when we feel ambivalent about an impending action—especially one that may be unnecessary and dangerous, we will feel very nervous as we picture ourselves going through with the action. Granted, we will also feel nervous about any danger—even those we must and should go through. But each person must learn to distinguish between the dangerous action and the question of correctness—“Is this really something that I should be doing?”
Sometimes there are legitimate gray areas of doubt, especially when dealing with situations where there is nothing wrong with the action (it is wholly legal and good by everyone’s standards), but where doubts still exist. Worse yet, one might feel good about it, but a parent or spouse may not. What to do you do? In these cases, we have a conflict between someone’s mind and another’s conscience. Which one is getting the proper signal? I recommend one or two approaches.
First, find other sources (people) whose judgments you know are wise and trustworthy. These types of people may not always be those we consider our closest friends. Learn to distinguish between people you like and people in whom you have ultimate trust. Hopefully, every parent should strive to be such a person of trust for his or her own children. In like manner, every person should make it his highest priority to find a mate with a solid feeling for conscience. Women, in general, seem to be a little better endowed in this regard, as compared with men—although there are clear exceptions in both groups. When we get into a gray area, where we cannot feel anything, one way or another, it is best to seek the counsel of someone we trust—someone we know has wisdom about life. Ask for their opinion before you give them any rationalizations or justifications that come to mind. One of the most interesting things I have discovered in life is that wives can often spot or feel a bad business deal even when they know nothing about the technical matters involved. Sometimes it is easier for them to feel the nervous feelings of conscience since they are not wrapped up in the process or in the desire.
Every one of the bad business deals made by my late father, was presaged by my mother, who could always sense when my Father was going to be deceived by an unreliable business partner. My mother’s judgment never failed, and my father never seemed to learn. His anxiousness to rationalize away my mother’s nervousness varied from “If I followed her nervous feelings, I’d never make any deals” to “She doesn’t know anything about these matters.” He had a lot of financial pressure with a big family, coupled with the dead weight of other previous deals that were not doing so well. All of this contributed to his willingness to push ahead, disregarding both his wife and conscience.
I suppose the only good that came out of my father’s financial problems was that we older children learned to be more careful in listening to our wives’ nervous feelings. I went so far as to make a mutual promise with my wife at marriage that if either of us felt nervous about any decision the other was going to make, we would simply tell the other that we felt nervous about it, and that would end it, no questions asked, no arguments. I have lost count of how many bad deals in business, real estate and other unwise purchases we have both avoided by the “automatic veto.” What’s more, we have had great peace and harmony in our lives, never having developed long chains of errors, compounding on previous ones. I highly commend this system to all. Incidentally, I have also felt that my own sense of conscience has become far more refined by comparing my feelings to my wife’s and seeing the results of being a more careful listener.
Second, if you have no source of trust to check your doubts with, start making the preparations and start acting as if you were going to go through with the plan, mentally. If incorrect, the nervous feelings should increase the closer you get to action. That is a definite warning sign you don’t want to miss. Unfortunately, like in a commitment to marry the wrong person, too many people get so far down the road in preparations and invitations that pulling out can get very embarrassing, and expensive. Nevertheless, I have found that it is always better to listen to the warnings of conscience, no matter what the consequences‑‑even if one has to notify all the guests that the wedding is called off. I’ve stopped counting the number of divorced people who later in life finally admit they had such warnings in their minds before the ceremony.
On the positive side, conscience works like this: when we think of appropriate thoughts and actions, we will feel calm about them (as to the correctness). It is still natural to be anxious about new or difficult things ahead, even when correct. In reality these calm assurances are what produces that internal peace that comes from doing what is right. Most of the time, calm feelings are simply the complete absence of doubt and nervous feelings. Only occasionally, when the Lord desires to personally shower a person with special confirmations, will they feel something much more profound and external‑‑a kind of inner warmth or fire within the soul. The Lord is careful not to use such strong feelings often, lest we begin to search for them frequently as a sign of approval, rather than look to the smaller, refined signals of conscience.
In contrast to the above, evil spiritual forces attempt to imitate calm feelings whenever possible. This is most often done by getting people to rationalize away nervous feelings, or, in other ways, talk themselves into something that isn’t right. Everyone knows what that process feels like. It is important to establish a habit pattern of learning to recognize those rationalizations just as they begin, and to cut them off. The deeper one gets into these excuses, the more hope increases and the more one’s desires to engage in the nervous action grows. Be careful also not to be guilty of trying to feed rationalization to someone else you may want to have join you in an activity. His or her nervousness may be your last chance to escape future consequences—since you may already be “past feeling.”
So, why do so many people persist in pushing past those warnings, even when they know better. As mentioned before, it is often because they established a habit pattern of disregarding conscience very early in life, but it is also coupled with parents who failed to reinforce and correct conscience when kids were young. All too often, one or the other will stop the parent who is upset with permissive counsel like, “let them go, dear—there just having fun.” Bad judgment like this isn’t easily corrected, even in the face of continual problems with the kids. Permissive parents blame themselves for not being more permissive and “loving.” But, unless people learn to develop the self-control patterns necessary to stop themselves in the face of nervous feelings and other warnings, they never do quit making mistakes. All too often, the parents own conscience has become so clouded that they don’t even feel intolerance for most bad behavior.
I have sometimes been put in a situation where even my honor was on the line, and opposed to my nervous feelings. I was once in the market for a used car, having a few extra thousand dollars. I had some extra time while driving through town and decided to go looking. I felt a little twinge of nervousness, but rationalized it away since I was only going to “look around.” I found a car just like I wanted, but it was overpriced, and the wrong color. Times were tough and the salesman was hungry. “What’s it worth to you?” he asked, casually. I was feeling a little more nervous now, so I decided to give him a ridiculously low offer, with the rationalization that if I got it for that price, I would feel good about it. He raised his eyes in surprise as I offered about two-thirds the asking price, but said we could go inside and talk about it. I then saw a professional sales technique unravel before my eyes‑‑the one where one man wrings his hands about your offer, tests your resolve, and then says he’ll have to go for higher authority. The next higher salesman or manager comes around and comes down a little more towards your offer, tests your resolve, and then calls in the next higher boss. Each time they tested my resolve, I was firm. The closer they kept coming to my price, the more nervous I was getting. I soon realized, while waiting for THE boss to come and talk to me, that these boys were going to give me what I asked for‑‑then panic hit me.
I knew all about nervous feelings, and was committed to obeying them, but I had made an offer, or had been talked into making one, however off the cuff. No matter. I was sure they were going to grill me on it. Sure enough, after a little more fake hand wringing, the big boss said, “OK, we’ll give it to you for your price,” and started filling out the forms. I was panicky by now. So I protested that I still didn’t like the color. “No problem” he said, “we’ll paint it for you‑‑any color you want!” Now I was really embarrassed and still nervous. I tried to talk myself into it‑‑it was such a good deal at this price. I couldn’t figure out ANY reason why I shouldn’t buy it‑‑other than feeling nervous. “I’d better call my wife, and see how she feels,” was my next response. Yes, she was nervous too. I had to back out. I finally told them I didn’t want the car. They immediately began to play upon my honor. “But you gave your word…you said you would buy it at such and such a price, didn’t you?” Yes, I did. But I finally decided to level with them. I told them I just didn’t feel good about it, and didn’t know why. Then they started to lower the price again, by $200 more. I really felt like a heel now, but still nervous.
I think they would have nearly given the car to me if I hadn’t just said no and walked out. When I reached that door, and walked out to my other car, I had the most overwhelming feeling of relief come over me‑‑ever, to that point in my life. I knew then that I had done the right thing, and that it was worth more than even my honor, my word, to obey my conscience. Later that month, I had a reversal in my business, and desperately needed every penny that I would have spent on that car. Who would have known? The divine source that can talk to us through conscience did and I was warned. Do you think I would have had much of a bargaining position to ask the Lord for help in my prayers over the business problem, if I had disregarded his warning? While the Lord is often forgiving, most often he lets us suffer the consequences when we disregard warnings.
These are some of the most pleasant helps that come from an active conscience. The prompting to remember things you have forgotten; the hint to check in a certain location for something lost; to call someone (who just happens to be home for a few minutes when you call). In business, you may be reminded to do something now, even though there seems to be no immediate pressing need—and then something unexpected comes up which otherwise would have stopped you from getting the job done. You may be prompted to take some financial action just before a fall in the financial markets. It has happened before, and has been the financial salvation of a few wise people.
The key habit to be learned is to take action on reminders when they occur. If you procrastinate, the benefit is lost. When you call later to that client, he isn’t in; or some opportunity is now lost. I have found that if I disregard a reminder, I usually don’t get reminded again. I have also found it very valuable to assume reminders are from a divine source, and give thanks and credit accordingly. After doing this for many years, I now have the conviction that, because of this attitude of gratitude, these kinds of reminders have increased in both accuracy and quantity. Perhaps someone up there is pleased when someone recognizes this divine source of blessings.
The kind of promptings I will address here have to do with nagging feelings from conscience that we should overcome some bad habit, or do some specific thing we know we should do, but don’t feel like. Most people get these all the time. These are the promptings or pushy feelings of conscience that nobody wants to hear. When we tell these to “get lost” there are unintended consequences that will someday prove costly toward our long-term progress.
First, when one makes a habit of disregarding promptings to change and improve, one no longer merits certain common blessings—like protection, good judgment, and freedom from illness—at least not in the same degree as before. When we regularly deny inspired suggestions, the practice is infectious to the entire mind, and one is left to fend for himself without help. Some are quite talented and still do well on their own, by worldly standards, but they do not receive the special insights reserved for those who actively seek both competency and divine guidance. How does one calculate the value or merit of information one never receives? We can’t—but are simply left on our own—and we wonder why things just don’t seem to go well anymore, or why life doesn’t seem to have any spark anymore. Eventually major errors begin to creep in, some moral, some not.
The cutoff of inspiration is gradual, just like the acquisition of a refined conscience. The Lord almost always avoids immediate consequences lest we “learn” too quickly from life, and obey out of fear rather than reformed desire and allegiance to truth. While it is better to obey because of a prompting, that is not to say it is not beneficial to learn from one’s mistakes‑‑only that often men become so hardened in their desires that they refuse to reform even in the face of consequences, and begin to seek out ways to evade further consequences, or they use partial repentance to get back into the path of least resistance.
Let’s now take a closer look at Satan’s temptations and enticements. In general, Satan will attempt to counter what the Lord desires for us, though he may and does use abundant doses of truth to deceive. Suppose Satan supplies the original bad idea. The Lord responds with nervous feelings to warn us of the problem. Satan begins to counter with rationalizations, the process of falsely arriving at a semblance of calmness, which is not of the Lord. The reason that rationalizations eventually work, if one persists, is that the Lord does not persist in giving nervous feelings. Sometimes he does, when the issue is extremely serious. But often, the Lord allows us to be led away by our own desires, especially when we refuse to learn by any way other than bad consequences. Since the Lord is not entirely predictable (by man anyway) as to how long his warnings will persist, it is best to not make a habit out of rationalizations.
The greater, long-term danger of rationalization is that the conscience itself becomes dull and insensitive. The mind is very quick and begins to recognize the entrance of nervous feelings on an old subject. It can quickly block it out, or bring in a well-worn standard rationalization to counter. The Lord believes in letting people follow their innate desires if they are determined to do so—that’s part of the test of life. The Lord’s reaction to all this is to stop prompting. Things don’t go better in life without conscience, no matter what the movies and commercials imply. They may seem to, for a while, especially when pleasure seeking is involved, but after a person persists for a while, one or two things begin to happen.
But, as you might suspect, it is not as simple as I am describing. Let’s look at one of Satan’s best ways of deceiving those that are trying hard to improve and listen to conscience. In the previous examples, the most common types, Satan attempts to get a person to do something less than right, mostly wrong. God tries to block the action with nervous feelings. However, once a person becomes fairly good at recognizing this pattern of conflict and resolution in his mind, he becomes fair game for “overshooting the mark.”
In this deception, Satan takes advantage of his advanced knowledge of things beyond our earthly comprehension. He is aware of many areas of higher knowledge and also future events. Satan is aware that the Lord withholds much more from us mortals than we realize, specifically to further the testing nature of life. While Satan has certain prohibitions placed upon him as to the divulging of these mysteries, he also has some leeway to use advance knowledge to deceive. A common example is his ability to give spiritualistic guidance to false prophets and diviners, who then gain a following by having a pattern of successful prophecy. Some religious leaders, excessively anxious for fame and monetary gain are given powers by Satan to temporarily heal or do minor miracles. None of this occurs without the Lord warning the receivers or the spectators with some nervous feelings, and hence it serves both Satan’s purposes to deceive as well as God’s purposes to test.
But even more common is the fact that God sometimes holds back the implementation of a full dose of truth and justice for testing purposes. Satan, on the other hand, tries to get good men to “overshoot the mark” or go beyond the limits the Lord has set in pursuing, truthful, but uninspired actions.
This is most evident in the struggle for political truth and freedom. The Lord has his own timetable for the redemption of his people and the scourging of the wicked. During the interim period, good people often have to suffer by being subject to evil powers or semi-corrupt powers. One of the saddest things to watch is how Satan will gain the hearts of some of the Lord’s best people, by making them bitter over some injustice, and thus getting them to take revolutionary action BEFORE its proper time, or before the Lord gives it his approval. Note, that in pure truth, the person is right about the injustice—but not about the action he may plan to take to remedy the injustice. Once the person who is “overshooting the mark” continues to disregard the warnings, he or she becomes angered by the apathy of others, who feel indisposed to revolutionary action. This reluctance on the part of many good people to get enthused about revolutionary action isn’t always based upon insightful judgment—mostly upon general ignorance and apathy about injustices that happen to others. This further irritates the zealous person. The wisest men, who are tuned into conscience, will be sympathetic to the danger of evil, but may know that the Lord is simply saying, “hold on for now.” Among the best people—those most sensitive to issues of truth, the temptation to overshoot the mark is the hardest deception to see, and to reverse once taken hold.
Of all the deceptions, the most subtle, however, is spiritual blindness. It begins by disregarding promptings, no matter how small or insignificant. But the more common malady among otherwise good people is being “blind-sided” to certain things. In other words, depending upon our innate desires, we have a tendency to be receptive to certain things that are easy to comply with, and resistant to others which test and challenge our innate weaknesses or proclivities. For example, if one has tendencies toward worldly desires, especially prestige and self-advancement, he may be very receptive to the promptings of conscience (or temptations) which lead to greater personal advancement and recognition from others. But when use of truth is made exclusively for self-aggrandizement, the spirit of truth is offended and one only gets selective help in the future. They still think they are progressing, but often it is leading them to the fall rather than to more stability and wisdom. Self-advancement isn’t, in and of itself, bad, except when such advancement is more important to the person than truth and service to others. The personally ambitious person may be resistant to criticism about his using excessive flamboyance in speeches, or even in religious matters. He will be resistant to the Lord’s caution to his conscience about maneuvering for purposes of excess pride and ego. A mother may be resistant to the Lord’s promptings to stay home and tend or teach her children when she wants to engage in some prestigious education or career goal.
GETTING RESTARTED WITH CONSCIENCE
This process of “selecting what truth you want” is what I mean by setting “limits” to personal progress. Anyone who places limits on the types of truth he or she will accept is courting eventual disaster, and will suffer from spiritual blindness generally, and will lack vision about essential advanced truths that lead one out of the dangers that will befall the earth, eventually.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of allegiance to conscience. Even if you are not a religious person, or if you dispute my open belief that God is the source of the positive promptings to conscience, try making the following test:
For the next month, try to assiduously follow every prompting of conscience you feel is right, and see if two things don’t happen. First, if you are diligent in listening and responding to the promptings, they should increase in quantity. You’ll get more than you want, if your experience is like mine. Second, they should begin to focus more and more on your personal bad habits, rather than on simple reminders to do important things during the day. All told, you should be able to look back on your experience and say that things went a lot better when the promptings were followed carefully.
Don’t expect not to get discouraged during this test. There are spiritual forces out there that hate this doctrine of listening to conscience and will do anything to keep you from improving your sensitivity and commitment to self-control. Remember that the positive promptings of conscience almost always involve things that we normally do not want to do—because it’s too hard, or inconvenient. Sometimes I get the feeling the Lord throws little promptings at me just to see how good my allegiance is. Often they don’t lead to anything great. Sometimes they even seem worthless or empty. But I still sense that driving force to pay special attention to everything that comes from outside my own mind.
Force yourself to do them and see how you feel afterward. Secondly, when you are reminded or prompted to do beneficial things, like remembering something you forgot, give credit to the Lord, even if you aren’t sure it came from Him. If these things are from Him, he will be appreciative of your remembering and acknowledging him, and will bless you with more promptings. Try this and see. With the exception of dedicated agnostics, I have never had any person come back to me and say that he or she didn’t begin to have an increase in promptings in life, and more blessings when promptings were followed. To be sure, they all had more pressure from evil sources as well, and the deceptions were more sophisticated. Alas, there is no “free lunch.”
Here are two simple rules to help everyone tie into the workings of conscience with more sensitivity and success:
- Never do anything you feel nervous about, as to the correctness.
- Always force yourself to do the things you know you should do, especially when you don’t feel like it.
The first rule ensures against major errors of commission. Yes, occasionally, if you or your wife is too cautious, you may loose an opportunity or two. But the important thing in life is to avoid major mistakes, from which you may not be able to recover. I don’t ever recall knowing any person who failed in life because of missing an opportunity. But I know hundreds who failed because of a pattern of disregarding nervous feelings. Life and the heavens can always guide you to other opportunities if you miss one through caution, but when we disregard conscience, we will have to bear the consequences.
When nervous feelings come, remember, that they don’t tell you what you should do, only that what you have concluded is, at the least, not quite right. You have to apply yourself and think it through again, pick another conclusion and then check your feelings for nervousness. If you never arrive at legitimate, non-rationalized calmness, don’t act…don’t do anything on that matter—just wait till a better idea comes along, or it dies on its own. Even if the answer is right, maybe the timing is off. In any case, waiting will usually make the problem clearer at a later time. This is especially important as to lifelong decisions like marriage. If in doubt, wait. Even if everyone is waiting at the church, don’t go through with something when you have nervous feelings (about the correctness)—it may mean a lifetime of anguish (But do tell someone at the church so everyone can go home).
The second rule ensures that you will put pressure on yourself to do the positive things you are prompted to do in life. This one single rule is the most important way to overcome depression, bar none. No one gets severely depressed without disregarding the first rule. And no one gets out of depression without living the second. Whenever depressed, just ask yourself, “What should I be doing right now?” Several things will come to mind—you probably won’t feel like doing any of them (especially if an evil, brooding spirit is bearing down on you). But choose one you feel best about, and then muster all your will power and force yourself to get up and do it. This process gets easier every time you try it.
Be ever on the lookout for different levels of inspiration and deception. Don’t think that whatever level you are used to will be satisfactory to the Lord—He will always push you onward towards higher and higher expectations, always within your ability to perform—even if you don’t know it yet. Remember also that the more you progress, the more subtle will be the temptations and trials. Rely on that still small voice of conscience and you will always have just the amount of inspiration and help you need to make it through—not without trial and effort, mind you—but there will always be a way out. Even if you never come to a complete surety of the truth of what I have said here, following conscience to the best of your ability at any given level of progress will ensure that, eventually, you will come to a deeper understanding of these promptings over the course of this life; and when you finally meet your maker, you will recognize him as that friendly voice in your mind that always kept pushing you on towards perfection of the heart.
WHY THE WORKINGS OF CONSCIENCE ARE SO OBSCURE
As I began to record and analyze the workings of conscience (while still a young man) it began to dawn on me that these little signals were really the key to a better life. Over the years, this conclusion has been confirmed to me time and again. But the more significant conscience loomed in my mind, the more I began to notice the almost complete absence of references and understanding of conscience in religious works, especially the scriptures. How could this be? Certainly the prophets were very skilled at listening to conscience, why did they rarely mention it? Why did they make no attempt to ever explain the variety of signals that come to it?
One of Paul’s statements indicates how mysterious and obscure the tiny workings of the Spirit of God were when he said, “the wind bloweth where it listeth and ye cannot tell from whence it comes…so also is the Spirit of God.” Paul rightly understood that the tiny spiritual messages that come faintly through conscience (and occasionally with great clarity directly to the mind) give no direct clue as from where they come—neither do they linger long—like the wind.
It is difficult to learn to read the signals of conscience clearly. It takes years of dedicated feeling, and just when you think you have a good handle on it, you miss or disregard a tiny prompting that causes lots of suffering. It seems like one can never completely relax in life. In fact, I’m sure now of that last conclusion. One must be ever vigilant to search out and receive all the signals and help in this life that is possible. In saying that, I do not mean that one becomes robotic in asking for confirmation about every step in life. Once your mind has been schooled and trained to know right from wrong in a broad range of situations, and you have developed the self-control to keep your actions in line, you can fairly proceed in life based upon your best choices—as long as you keep a very sensitive ear to conscience, always listening for any nervous warnings that you are headed awry.
I honestly think that the Lord wants us to learn from conscience—not simply become mechanically obedient to it. The more we learn and internalize, the more trustworthy and reliable we become intrinsically. So I try to analyze everything I get from conscience. I try to see why certain things are right and wrong. Sometimes one has to wait until much later to see how things turn out in life. I think it is appropriate to think things through as completely as possible so that conscience doesn’t have to intervene unnecessarily. There is no danger in becoming too independent of higher truths as long as you always keep a dedicated spiritual ear open for input. This much I have learned; that no matter how intelligent and well trained we may become in life, we never know enough about the future to become independent from divine wisdom and foreknowledge. That’s why conscience will always be around—because we need it.
But it is precisely this tendency to analyze and categorize the signals of conscience that finally answers the question of why the workings of conscience are so poorly transmitted. It is the tendency of people familiar with conscience to interpret the signals and correlate them as rules and principles. Since the promptings of conscience often are faint and obscure, it is always easier for people to teach people rules than how they developed them from conscience. Rules and principles are much easier to express to children than to simply tell them to listen to their conscience. Besides, most people can’t be completely trusted to “let conscience be your guide,” because they have rationalized and distorted its message so much it is no longer a reliable indicator. Because of our permissive norms in society today, it is almost considered improper to “impose one’s view of morality” on another. While I agree it is wrong to impose it (except upon those who violate other’s rights) I certainly feel it appropriate to correct children’s conscience when they have begun to skew the message.
But hardly anyone even thinks about conscience, let alone correct it in others—most people simply are content to set down rules. So, we’ve become a legalistic society of rule makers and yes men to law—individuals and families, each feeling like, “as long as I obey the rules,” I’m OK. But it’s a poor system for everything except major wrongs. At the micro level of life, the rules are never specific enough to cover every situation and every contingency, so it is natural for people to think they have a lot of leeway in their behavior. But they don’t, really. Conscience has an opinion about almost everything—though it won’t allow you to use it like a Ouija board—asking yes or no questions on who to marry or what stocks to put your money into.
But isn’t it possible to be led astray by everyone listening to a multitude of different voices in the mind? Yes, and No. I agree wholeheartedly that many people get carried away. Many religious people get carried away with “God talks to me.” These are not content to leave His voice as the tiny whispering that it is, and often blow it up into an audible conversation, giving perfectly precise, commands and directions of movement. While God certainly can be this specific if He desires, and if there is a good purpose, I have never seen him act this way even to his prophets in the scriptures, except on rare occasions. Most often, people who attribute too much to God specifically speaking to them so often, go over the mark. Even if it were true, one of the signs of true religion is that it is not showy or braggadocios. Wise men do not go around saying, “God talks to me all the time,” even if it were true. They would use more discrete language so that it wouldn’t appear they were bragging about their special relationship with God—which makes a person suspect anyway.
Part of the problem people have (in developing errors in listening) is that nobody has the courage to correct them when they exhibit bad judgment or express erroneous ideas. People who aren’t careful, mentally, often fail to hear the tiny nervous feelings that accompany any bad idea. Part of our reluctance is due to the social taboo against correcting other’s opinions. True, caution and care must be used here, but there are ways to give people subtle messages that their conclusions or feelings don’t match reality. Often it’s enough to simply and carefully disagree with them. If you are a close friend, you can get into more detail about how they are coming to certain conclusions and why you may feel otherwise.
MENTAL HABITS THAT DETER THE OPERATIONS OF CONSCIENCE
There are two tendencies in behavior that I have noticed lend themselves to problems with conscience. The first is that people who can’t exercise much restraint in thought or expression seem to make the most errors in terms of getting false signals from conscience—or at least, from an erroneous source. Conscience is such a subtle voice that loud, fast talking, and eccentric people don’t do well with it. First, their mind flits too fast from one thing to another, and conscience can’t get through to them. Second, their erratic mental patterns don’t lend themselves to stopping and analyzing anything in a judicious manner. Conscience has to scream to get them to stop—or let consequences sting them so bad, that they become more cautious and careful.
The other tendency is found in the intellectual and scientific oriented person that lacks any feelings for seeking out and dealing with people. Skills in listening to the small signals of conscience have a fairly high correlation with personalities that are more people oriented. I suppose that is because such a large portion of the signals of conscience is dedicated to the right and wrong of dealings with people. If one’s personality actively shies away from human relations, the signals of conscience will be weak to him or her—except perhaps when such a person should be tempted by a major mistake or error of conduct; then I believe everyone gets sufficiently strong signals to know, at least the first time, that such conduct is wrong. I believe such personalities can learn to be more sensitive to conscience, but only as they learn to deal more comfortably with and have a greater interest in people.
There is also the fact that some people innately lack sensitivity to conscience due to choices made in their spiritual development prior to this mortal existence. But that is a subject beyond the scope of this writing.
DEVELOPING SELF CONTROL
It does little good to hear the promptings of conscience unless one develops sufficient self-control to force oneself to follow those promptings. People often get reminders from conscience to do something, and continually put such things off till it is convenient. Rarely do we merit a second reminder and thus find many occasions to anguish over the results of procrastination.
So, how do we improve self-control? The answer lies in the interesting link between things physical and mental. When the mind is required to put pressure on the physical side of self, either to suppress improper or untimely urges, or to make it perform something difficult, the mind seems to gain strength and get better at controlling counter urges that come from a complaining body. The mind does not develop the same degree of self-control, when it is only required to operate on mental ideas. One manipulates ideas but the effort required to suppress them is usually much less difficult than suppressing physical drives.
Thus, it is no surprise that forcing yourself to do strenuous and invigorating physical exercise is one of the best ways to develop mental self-control. Long distance, hard breathing exercises (running or biking, even swimming) are best. There is something about the slow fatigue that builds up over long distances and times that teaches the mind much about the body’s true threshold of pain. As pain and fatigue slowly increase, the mind receives numerous signals to quit and rest. But one learns quickly that the body can go a lot longer and further after those initial pains of fatigue. In then pushing the body to further conditioning, one has to endure almost constant anguish. And as long as the heart doesn’t feel any excessive pain, this is good for both body and mind.
Once a person has developed good mental-over-physical control, he or she needs to start applying this control to other weaknesses—being overweight is a common but tough one. Bad speech or conversation habits are another (these are especially difficult to break). Ultimately, one needs to apply them to bad mental habits—daydreaming, drifting, and erratic thinking, and, worst of all, disregarding the signals of conscience.
In order to develop good skills of controlling the mind, one has to learn to think while one speaks. If you have not learned to do this, you are speaking by memory patterns and not with full rational control. Rational control over speech requires that you slow down enough to be thinking as you speak. You can even learn to listen to how you are sounding to others, read reactions, and adjust as you see errors or eccentricities that diminish your effectiveness.
But the interesting side benefit of this “listen as you speak” process is that you become vastly more capable of hearing the interrupting comments of conscience—which will help you feel nervous about saying things you shouldn’t, as well as prompt you with ideas that will help improve what you are trying to say. It’s like having a miniature corrector and prompter at your mind’s fingertips. In computer terminology, it’s like having instant and interactive “on-line” help.
All this interaction with conscience in the mind, ultimately, is only as good as your ability to exercise thought control. This is particularly difficult for fast thinking, rapid-fire speaking, and hard-driving people. It is also difficult for people who have been exposed to too much trash in their formative years. Active screening of mental inputs is as important a thought control function as “trash removal”—but being a preventative measure, it greatly simplifies the trash removal problem.
While modern psychologists have many negative things to say about suppression, I find that suppression of bad thoughts and ideas is the only way to get rid of them. Suppression means forcing yourself not to think of them—using self-control to bring other substitute subjects to mind. Remember, it isn’t a fleeting memory that is dangerous, but only the one you take the time to dwell on. Suppress it quickly with another better thought, and the brief encounter with the bad memory will continue to get dimmer over time. The technique of giving expression in group or private therapy sessions to all the past garbage of the mind does not, in fact, remove it. Expression only increases the freshness and intensity of the memory, and makes it that much more difficult to remove. By the way, removal of memory only comes by time lapse. Time without refreshing a memory allows it to fade—the faded memories are the ones most likely to be replaced in the mind by new memory.
There is an appropriate role for “talking things out”, but this is only helpful for things involving relationships or past events where the person is confused or unsure of what is really going on, or why it happened. Even then, it is not necessary to get the person to bring up graphic descriptions of the evil or horror they experienced. Especially in cases of abuse, it is almost always sufficient to simply have the person give you a generalized description of what happened—none of the specifics are necessary, as long as the specific crime can be determined in general words. Most often, even a couple of words or a single sentence is sufficient to know the size of the tragedy. The healing of the mind takes time—time and distance away from the memories. Don’t destroy the person you are trying to help by encouraging them to drag it all up again.
The most common problem with conscience is people’s tendency to make permanent rationalizations that seal off their receptivity to certain signals. In other words, people talk themselves into the fact that such and such a problem is no longer a problem. Thus, being immune to any future nervous feelings on that subject, their judgment begins a rapid deterioration. Here is a description of some of the most common areas where people cut off the signals of conscience:
- WEIGHT CONTROL: Being overweight is one of those problems that develops gradually, and where rationalizations are increasingly utilized over time—often robbing a person of a clear look at what is taking place in his or her life. It is important that you dislike what you have become, but more important that this dislike be stronger than your desires to avoid pain. Because if you haven’t got enough control to withstand hunger pains, you are doomed to continue down the same road—despite your good intentions, and despite the temporary promises of no-pain diets. Probably the biggest rationalization overweight people use is that a “normal plateful of food” can’t be considered overeating. That’s nonsense. If you aren’t losing weight, then even a saucer plateful may be too much—especially if its the wrong kind or quality of food. The bottom line is, if you aren’t feeling nervous about soda pop, junk food, second helpings, and eating out regularly, you have a problem with a callused conscience. You should feel nervous about eating anything but the bare minimum of wholesome foods—and don’t get into the habit of making exceptions.
- JUNK FOOD: It’s amazing to me how people can talk themselves into feeling good about some of the trash they eat as food—overprocessed, excessively sweet and criminally doctored up with chemicals and hormones. Soft drinks, candy, snack foods, baby formula, sweetened breakfast cereals, alcoholic beverages, coffee, white bread, and even pasteurized, hormone tainted milk are some of the worst offenders. If you aren’t feeling nervous about these things, then you too have a problem with conscience. Get it resensitized to good quality food. Find out why natural food is so much better. Find out why chemicals in the food chain are so damaging. Then perhaps your conscience can regain some sensitivity.
- PERMISSIVE DISCIPLINE: This is an area where most people have a natural sense of what is not tolerable in child behavior. But good people have been subjected to such a propaganda barrage from social scientists, newspapers, TV and even churches, decrying discipline as child abuse, and extolling the virtues of unconditional love, that it would take a miracle for one’s conscience to not succumb to this false guilt trip. Let me give you some correction on this very important subject. You should feel nervous and intolerant about any tantrums your children throw, and you should feel righteous indignation—yes, even proper anger—when your kid sasses you back and calls you dirty names. You should not feel nervous when your conscience prompts you to spank a child when he is in willful rebellion to what both you and he knows is right. Raising your voice is appropriate when the behavior is violent, dangerous, or extremely rebellious. Don’t feel guilty about it. The child needs to feel by the tone of your voice how serious his rebellion is.
- POLITICS: If you have a sensitive conscience, you should feel nervous when politicians tell you they are serious about balancing the budget in seven years. You should feel nervous when they assure you the national debt doesn’t really matter as long as the economy is growing. You should have felt nervous about assurances that the New World Order is not dangerous to America. You should feel nervous about the use of any tax moneys for welfare, foreign aid, medical care, education and the arts. If someone has to explain the technical reason why these things are all violations of the principles of liberty then you have a real education deficit. But even with poor public education, people with sensitive consciences can tell these things are wrong, at least in part, before someone explains it. That is why sensitive people seek out alternative sources of information—because they feel nervous about everything the establishment media stands for.
- BAD MUSIC: I define bad music as erratic, jarring, and unstable—with a lack of melodious underpinning. I always feel uncomfortable around bad music, no matter whether it is part of rock, classical, country, spiritual or jazz. Every form of music, except the specific offshoots of hard rock, are capable of producing pleasant feelings. Some forms are more generally suited to emotionally stable music (classical and hymns). But you should feel nervous around any type of music that is destabilizing and not uplifting. Worse, yet, if you actually like hard, acid rock or wildly erratic classical show-off pieces or wild jazz, your conscience is in bad shape. Nothing dulls the feeling sense of conscience more than bad music—unless it is sexual sin.
- EXCESSIVE DEFERENCE TO PEOPLE: There is a trend in political correctness and even in the phony side of politics to having a “kinder, softer” touch in all we do. When relations with people take precedence over truth, we find conscience is shut off. The primary purpose of conscience is to correct people. So when we set up a common standard implying that anything that offends people is evil, we guarantee that conscience will either be shut out or branded as radical, offensive and evil. This is not to say one should not be sensitive to people’s feelings, only that one’s highest allegiance should always be to truth—even if there is a risk of offending others by what conscience prompts you to say or stand for.
- JUDGMENTS: The general consensus of the world is that judging others is always evil—which is patently false. If fact, everyone judges everything quite automatically. The only way not to judge is not to think. So take your choice. Since we all judge, let us simply learn to judge righteously. There are two elements to this. First, it is appropriate to make class judgments (where you classify people into like groups or classes). This is a very efficient natural process in the mind to facilitate decision-making. Always try to make your classifications as accurate as possible and always leave the door open for modification of change—that is how to avoid prejudice and improper bias. The best judges of people have the most accurate set and quantity of categories. Second, when you reach a tentative conclusion about someone or something, check your conscience for nervous feelings. If you feel unsure about the judgment, analyze, and modify it till if seems right. By letting conscience correct and give insight to your judgments, you are not only capable of more accurate decisions, but you can also know things beyond what others can see. Those that don’t see will always accuse you of making judgments without facts, but you will know that spiritual input can be as good as fact under certain circumstances.
CONSCIENCE IN MARRIAGE:
First, always check for confirmation with conscience in selecting a mate. Remember that it is easy to fall in love with several different people, but usually, only one is the right one to marry. Because they meet all your criteria and you are attracted to them is not sufficient reason to marry. Confirmation by conscience (not rationalization) must therefore come to both people. Do not try to talk someone into marriage, and let nervous feelings of either person have precedence over calm feelings. Calm feelings are easily subject to rationalization. There are other heavenly factors involved that a person may not know about—promises made before this life, children assigned to a certain couple, and heaven’s insights into the ultimate incompatibilities due to age, dominance, or mis-matched types. Let heaven have its input, or you will someday regret it.
Second, always let conscience rule in your joint decision-making during marriage. Promise each other you won’t proceed with any purchase, business deal or decision if the other feels nervous about it. Wait and modify things until both feel good about it—without pressure and rationalization. Always have uppermost in your mind the eternal perspective to all decisions. Don’t get too excited or intense about any single earthly decision—unless it also has relevance to the eternities.
Third, use conscience as your primary tool of discipline with children. But before the age where they become aware of the nervous feelings of conscience (usually 3-5) make sure you teach them how to develop the internal will to make their desires respond to your direction. This training in self-discipline is a first essential—otherwise they won’t have the control to follow conscience when you teach them about it later. In general theory, physical discipline (mild pain) makes the child’s mind turn against his improper desires (as he discovers that is how to avoid the external pain—which must always be greater than his internal drives). Thus, he learns he can suppress his desires at will. Then, when he or she is old enough, you teach them to recognize the warnings of conscience and let them use these warnings to direct when to suppress bad actions or desires. The parent then steps into the background to watch and correct when they miss signals or fail to heed them. So, don’t tolerate tantrums at any age. Even little babies can be taught the difference between a legitimate cry of need and a tantrum. Never let a tantrum go without a strong signal to stop (a swat on the thigh is usually effective). Make sure little children learn to respond the first time to your requests. Never tolerate back talk or rebellion in any form. All this is necessary to teach them how strictly they have to act in order to really make good use of conscience.
Parents must vary the amount of physical discipline according to the seriousness of the behavior and the receptiveness of the child to correction. Mild children may never require anything but a stern voice. But above all, remember the purpose of discipline is not simply to punish (though painful consequences do help the mind to remember), but to demand an immediate change of attitude. Don’t stop discipline until they become compliant. And if the problem comes back again, you know you didn’t act strongly enough the first time. Naturally, you should never go so far as to hurt the child, and conscience will always warn you about going too far.
CONSCIENCE IN BUSINESS:
There has always existed the temptation to think that one is free to do whatever is legal in business. But conscience has a much higher standard than mere legality—which only covers the worst of crimes and wrongs. Conscience won’t let you feel good about taking advantage of others, or pushing other people too hard in business deals.
There is a real evil in the teaching of negotiation skills and sales closing techniques. Both these areas involve violations of conscience. Teaching predator skills in business, negotiations, leveraged buyouts and any other aspects of business goes beyond the golden rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Don’t try to get ahead too fast in business. Don’t push too hard in negotiations when dealing with honest people. Don’t be a pushover for other conniving people either, it goes without saying. Have enough faith in God that you will be blessed over the long run if you take time to grow slow, and deal fairly with all.
Almost all “closing techniques” in sales training are aimed at overcoming buyer’s remorse or the buyer’s nervous feelings—very interesting. Did you ever realize you were being taught to violate other people’s conscience? You want that charge leveled against you at the judgment day? Well, just keep up the “hard sell” and that’s where you’ll be. Try honestly to help them recognize when they are feeling nervous. When you are really on their side, they will become loyal clients in the future. Sometimes people have nervousness because they don’t feel they know enough. But after they do know all they need to know, and they still feel nervous, respect that. They may not even know why. There may be some financial crisis coming in their lives that they don’t yet know about—that only the Lord knows about. So don’t be caught trying to undermine someone’s nervous feelings.
Within the workings of conscience are found the essence of our final examination on earth. No matter what you do publicly on earth—no matter how much fame, fortune or power you accumulate—the core judgment concerning your conduct and being will center around how you have reacted to the specific promptings of conscience in every situation of life. Furthermore, no matter what has gone on before, you can repent, repudiate your past and begin the healing process by linking yourself to the still small voice of conscience—which will lead you back home to that God who sent us here. But the longer one waits, the more difficult the process of change, and the more distant the voice of conscience becomes. It takes many years to become accurate and sensitive to the whisperings of conscience, even when we try our very best to listen and obey—so be patient—but don’t ever allow yourself to relax. Be always on guard for correction, and be ever ready to act when you know what is right—especially when you don’t feel like it.